I sat down with Eshe & Tasha before their performance at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans on July 2, 2010 to discuss their musical journey over the years.
CB: It’s been a long time between albums 2006 through 2009. Why the break?
Eshe: We’ve been together for 15 years. We took a small break at one point and got back together in 1998-1999. When we got back into the studio it just happened organically.
CB: When Speech formed your group, it was as an alternative to gangsta rap. Music has changed a lot in the past 15 years. How do you feel about the current state of hip-hop and rap today?
Eshe: Well, in the beginning we just wanted to do good music that the family could listen to and was positive for the community and the world. It was just natural for us. We didn’t start out with an agenda. Today, I think there are a lot of good artists out there, but there isn’t balance in music. I have a daughter who is seven and I try to expose her to a broad view of music. There are a lot of great groups out there that are under the radar.
CB: What up-and-coming bands do you enjoying listening to or what is your current favorite?
Eshe: Great question! There are a lot of groups out that are under the radar.
CB: I know you talked on CNN today, and I’m trying to be better than Anderson Cooper.
Eshe and Tasha: [laughing]
Eshe: I like Janelle. She’s been on the Atlanta scene for some time now, but hasn’t had her big break. I like Janell!
Tasha: We love Janelle.
CB: You guys tour all over the world. What’s your favorite place?
Tasha: Australia! I love that place.
Eshe: We are going to be there in December to bring in the New Year over there. It’s so beautiful there.
Tasha: I love Australians. I could live there forever.
Eshe: I also love Japan, but I’m so glad I’m going to Australia in their summer and our winter. It’s going to be great.
CB: What’s been your most fulfilling career moment?
Eshe: Wow. [Long pause] I think for me it’s when we do shows and people come up to me and say “Don’t change” and “You inspire me.” and “I love the way you look because you inspire me.” I think it’s great when you can connect with people. I see babies at our shows all the way up to elders.
CB: Do you have any charities that you work with personally?
Eshe: I’ve taught dance at a number of locations. As a group, we have worked with UNICEF and homeless organizations across the country along with Feed the Hungry in Atlanta.
CB: What’s your favorite song to perform live?
Tasha: Mama’s Always On Stage. I’m not the best dancer in the world, but when you put that song on it makes you want to dance. You can dance as crazy as you want to and it doesn’t matter. When you see people come to the show, it gives them the freedom to dance any way they want.
Eshe: For me, I don’t really have a favorite because there are so many I like. I like Fishing For Religion, Mama’s, We Ran, and Bloody.
CB: I liked The World Is Changing. Is there a story behind that one?
Eshe: Have you seen the video? You’ve got to go out on youtube and see the video. In the video, we go through different eras. The 50’s, 80’s and the 90’s and show how the world is changing. Like rotary phones to cellular phones.
Tasha: Everything, even the style of dress.
Eshe: It’s simplistic, but shows the world is forever changing.
Tasha: It’s impossible to keep up with everything changing.
Eshe: It reminds you to appreciate the moment.
CB: What do you wish you knew 15 years ago that you know now?
Eshe: I wish I were more knowledgeable about the business aspect of the music business. At the time, I just wanted to sing. It’s 98% business, and the rest is the artistic part of it. I have balance now. At the end of the day, I understand the business, but I still like to perform.
Tasha: For me, it’s things in life. I wish that I would have known that things weren’t as easy as my mother created them to be when I was a kid. Parents shield you as a kid, but then when you get to high school and college you don’t know how to handle a situation. I wish I had been exposed to a little bit more so I would know how to make the right decisions and why it’s the right decision to make as an adult without looking for someone to give guidance.
Friday, Apr 27 - MerleFest Festival Grounds
Every morning I wake and thank baby Jesus I am a biped, agile and have been blessed with a no mess ability to pee standing up. And in a steady torrent. Just about anywhere without attracting attention (well, there was that county deputy in Abington, Va., a while back who got a bit riled). Middle age is good.
Here's a tip for you campers. Your welcome to stay up as late as you want, but if it's 3 a.m. and your talking like your in your living room, don't complain at 6 a.m. if I'm banging pots like I'm in my kitchen.
Oh, and you've pitched your tent in poison ivy.
Thursday after an early evening catnap (middle age) to the sounds of Daily and Vincent (meh — great Stanley Brothers style harmonies, lay off the Cracker Barrel shtick), I made my way over to to the Dance Tent to catch some Blind Boy Chocolate and the Milk Sheiks. This Asheville, NC, street ensemble features five guys doing hokum string/jug band/blues music from the late 1920's and early ’30s. Guys in newsie caps, mutton chops, bowler hats with tattooed ears (ouch, that had to hurt), nose rings — yep, total 20-sumpthin freaks.
Calling out tunes by long (and soon to be) forgotten Blues and string players from the early part of the last century, Blind Chocolate plays hard-driving, bawdy, syncopated, all-acoustic string music. Lyrically rich in double entendres, liquor and murder. This ain't the square dance stuff my Uncle Blake played and my dad danced to in parlors across the Cumberland Plateau during the Great Depression; this is the music found in jukes and bars and back room drinkeries and the kids love it. Every 10 years or so, string music comes back into fashion, and that, my friends, is a good thing. John Hartford is clapping from his grave. It's comforting to witness people giving over to the coherent dissonance of barely tunable instruments, played together and with vehemence. Banjolin, steel guitar, washtub bass, washboard and tenor banjo, three guys trading vocals, four guys shouting in unison and giving call-backs. Dwight Hawkins (Blind Boy Chocolate?) plays saw, bones and the short scale tenor banjo in a style I've never seen before. And does it really well. The banjolin player, Nicholas Marshall (one of the Milk Sheiks?), occasionally picks up a thoroughly modern looking mandolin, temporarily breaking the temporal enchantment. After a lull at the top of their long set as people wondered in and grew accustom to being ass-to-elbow, the crowd was jumping and yelling, kids from 8 to 80 whirled and shimmied.
After a few cups of coffee this morning (Friday), I headed over to the Americana stage to check out another Asheville based band, The Honeycutters. North Carolina has a rich history of Alternativecountryrootsrockamericana bands. From The Backsliders to the Avett Brothers, this state churns ’em out and the natives support band after great band. The Honeycutters fit the Avett Brothers mold of instantly likable songs and gifted melodies. It's got to be hard, after playing clubs and bars, to get up early enough to hit the stage by 9:30 a.m. The Honeycutters brought their 'A' game and delivered an instantly familiar and pleasant set. Just what my psyche needed after listening all night to my campground neighbors. The mandolin player plays in well-worn territory while acoustic guitar player Peter James fills the space with sweet crosspicking and occasionally lays into his guitar in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of early Paul K. Lead singer Amanda Anne Platt's beautiful alto fills the air — add in some tasteful three part harmonies and you have a AAA Radio winner.
From the Americana tent, my soul freshly refilled, I headed back over to the Cabin Stage for a set by Blues historian, storyteller and performer Frutland Jackson (Fruit Land). Hailing from Chicago, Frutland covers seamlessly and flawlessly all styles of blues from delta to north Mississippi to Chicago to Piedmont, all the while telling in a remarkably engaging and non-professorial way what distinguishes one style from another. I've seen plenty of Blues player who like to lecture during performances, and mostly I feel like shouting, "Shut the fuck up and play!" but Frutland had me wanting to bum rush the stage in awe and anticipation that he may answer some questions I have about Depression-era singers and groups. First set I've seen in a lonnnnng while that ended to soon. Most of his songs were originals done in a specific style with a voice that ranged from guttural to heartfelt tremble (think Ledbetter doing "Goodnight Irene"). Outstanding!
Some of the many things to do at MerleFest besides running from one stage to another trying to catch acts is sitting around and playing music with other attendees. Along with an open mic area, there are three tents set up where you sit down and play — Old Timey, Bluegrass and Anything Goes. The Anything Goes tent is like a hippy camp-out with one bazillion guitars around a raging fire in the middle of the night, playing Casey Jones minus the alcohol and LSD. The stuff nightmares are made of, but if you've never done this kind of thing, there's no reason to be a jaded asshole like me — grab your guitar and jump in. Everyone is clean and welcoming.
I sat around the Old Timey Tent as it had the least guitar-to-other-instrument ratios. (By the way, aspiring musicians — learn guitar to impress the girls or boys; learn something else for a working job.) A couple of old timers were letting fly on some fiddle tunes. Quite nice. The guitar player was strumming a pre-1935 Martin D18. I know about these things, and they tickle me pink.
Time for lunch!
One of the Midwest’s best new music fests, Cincinnati’s own Bunbury Music Festival, presents its second annual event this weekend. With another stellar lineup for the three-day affair — including headliners like Fun., MGMT and Cincinnati-bred Indie Rock stars The National (whose latest album debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s album chart), plus a great number of Greater Cincinnati’s top acts — a “sophomore slump” seems impossible.
Be sure to arrive early and check out some of the lesser-known acts; there are a lot of up-and-coming gems to discover. Below is the full schedule (click here to auto-download a PDF version of the schedule from the fest.)
Shows run Friday-Sunday and start at 2 p.m. Gates open at 1
p.m. each day. Tickets are $65 or $130 for three-day passes. (Kids 10
and under are free with a paying adult.) Keep your wristband on; Bunbury
allows re-entry, if you need to run to the car and pound a 40, er, grab
From BunburyFestival.com, here is what is and isn't permitted to bring to Bunbury:
What to Bring (Allowed Items)
- Sun Gear (e.g., sunglasses, sunscreen, etc.)
- Seating (e.g., folding chair, blanket, etc.)
- Bug Repellent (no Deet)
- Rain Gear (ponchos are best, but small, hand-held umbrellas are OK)
- Baby strollers
- Empty water bottled (no glass) or Cambelbak
- Wall mounted rapid charger (charging stations provide iPhone and mini-USB chords, but if you have your own chord, you won't have to wait)
What NOT to Bring (Prohibited Items)
- Weapons, fireworks or explosives of any kind
- Illegal substances (including narcotics) or drug paraphernalia
- Framed or large backpacks
- Glass containers of any kind or coolers
- Food, beverages or Cambelbaks that are full
- Carts, bicycles, skateboards, scooters, or personal motorized vehicles (including Segways). There is bike/scooter parking outside the event site
- Tents, large umbrellas or chairs that are NOT sand chairs (seat more than 9" off the ground)
- Pets (except service dogs)
- Any audio recording, professional camera or video equipment
- Moshing, crowd surfing, and/or stage diving
- Vending without a Bunbury license or permit
- Bills over $20. We won't accept them at the beverage booths.
There's more fun AFTER Bunbury at the Bunbury official after-parties, with loads of drink specials and no cover charge. Tonight, DJ Ice Cold Tony will spin at the official after-party at downtown's Igby's. Tomorrow, Bunbury performers Chairlift will DJ the after-party at aliveOne in Mt. Adams. And Sunday's after-party at downtown's The Righteous Room will have DJing by great Cincy Electro duo You, You're Awesome. (Friday and Saturday's parties start at approximately 11 p.m.; Sunday's starts at around 10 p.m.)
FRIDAY, JULY 12
MAIN STAGE: The Features (2:45 p.m.); Delta Rae (4:15 p.m.); Tegan and Sara (5:45 p.m.); Walk the Moon (7:45 p.m.); fun. (10 p.m.)
ROCKSTAR STAGE: Beat Club (2 p.m.); The Dunwells (3:30 p.m.); Red Wanting Blue (5 p.m.); Youngblood Hawke (6:45 p.m.); Devotchka (9 p.m.)
CINCINNATUS STAGE: Billy Wallace (2:45 p.m.); Pete Dressman (4:15 p.m.); Josh Eagle (5:45 p.m.); Jay Nash (7:45 p.m.)
BUD LIGHT STAGE: Public (2 p.m.); American Authors (3:30 p.m.); Everest (5 p.m.); Sky Ferreira (6:30 p.m.); Tokyo Police Club (8:30 p.m.)
LAWN STAGE: Alone At 3am (2:45 p.m.); Old Baby (4:15 p.m.); We Are Snapdragon (5:45 p.m.); Seabird (7:15 p.m.)
AMPHITHEATER STAGE: The Mitchells (2 p.m.); Ohio Knife (3:30 p.m.); State Song (5 p.m.); Buffalo Killers (6:30 p.m.); Those Darlins (8 p.m.)
SATURDAY, JULY 13
MAIN STAGE: Empires (2:45 p.m.); Robert Delong (4:15 p.m.); Twenty One Pilots (5:45 p.m.); Cake (7:45 p.m.); MGMT (10 p.m.)
ROCKSTAR STAGE: X Ambassadors (2:00 p.m.); Civil Twilight (3:30 p.m.); Chairlift (5 p.m.); We Are Scientists (6:45 p.m.); Divine Fits (9 p.m.)
CINCINNATUS STAGE: Margaret Darling (2:45 p.m.); Taylor Alexander (4:15 p.m.); Tim Carr (5:45 p.m.); Christopher Paul Stelling (7:45 p.m.)
BUD LIGHT STAGE: Culture Queer (2 p.m.); Vacationer (3:30 p.m.); The Mowgli's (5 p.m.); Oberhofer (6:30 p.m.); Atlas Genius (8:30 p.m.)
LAWN STAGE: The Ready Stance (2:45 p.m.); The Bears Of Blue River (4:15 p.m.); Black Owls (5:45 p.m.); You, You're Awesome (7:15 p.m.)
AMPHITHEATER STAGE: New Vega (2 p.m.); Messerly And Ewing (3:30 p.m.); Ben Walz Band (5 p.m.); The Pinstripes (6:30 p.m.); Bear Hands (8 p.m.)
SUNDAY, JULY 14
MAIN STAGE: Joe Purdy (2 p.m.); Gregory Alan Isakov (3:30 p.m.); Camera Obscura (5 p.m.); Belle & Sebastian (7 p.m.); The National (9 p.m.) (Read CityBeat's interview with The National here.)
ROCKSTAR STAGE: The Knocks (2:45 p.m.); A Silent Film (4:15 p.m.); Night Terrors of 1927 (6 p.m.); Yo La Tengo (8 p.m.)
CINCINNATUS STAGE: Ben Knight (2 p.m.); Jake Kolesar (3:30 p.m.); Mark Utley (5 p.m.); Channing & Quinn (7 p.m.)
BUD LIGHT STAGE: Gringo Star (2:45 p.m.); High Highs (4:15 p.m.); Savoir Adore (5:45 p.m.); Black Joe Lewis (7:45 p.m.)
LAWN STAGE: Mia Carruthers (2 p.m.); Bethesda (3:30 p.m.); The Harlequins (5 p.m.); DAAP Girls (6:30 p.m.)
AMPHITHEATER STAGE: The Upset Victory (2:45 p.m.); Green Light Morning (4:15 p.m.); The Hiders (5:45 p.m.); Daniel Martin Moore (7:15 p.m.)
Here is Bunbury's official Spotify playlist for the fest featuring many of the performers:
And, finally, here is the map of the Bunbury Festival grounds from bunburyfestival.com: